A dear friend asked me about social anxiety today and as I wrote back, I thanked her for giving me my next blog:
Social anxiety is so sad. I have had it, too, at times. I remember a time when I felt I literally had grown three dress sizes in an hour. I felt so terrible about myself that I did not want to dress to go to a party.
It was a distortion. That’s what most anxiety is rooted in. Things we assume are true. Keyword: Assume.
I asked my friend if the person she was asking about was introverted. If so, that’s a different conversation than the one we are having here and now.
In any kind of phobic or anxious reaction, the key is exploring your beliefs, your thoughts, right down to their root. “If I screw up at a meeting or party by saying something stupid, then people will look down on me. And if someone looks down on me, then I will be ashamed. And while I’m being ashamed and hating myself for my error, they will be thinking I am a boob (or worse) and they may tell others. In fact, those people may then turn and tell others and I will be humiliated. Therefore, I should not go to parties and if I do, I must not risk speaking.”
This is a kind of trance, yes? The notion that we create the world with our thoughts is at least as old as Buddha, likely even older. But what to do? We take our brain to the Mindfulness Gym, to the Jizo shrine, the meditation cushion, our therapist’s office. We take our thoughts instead of our thoughts taking us.
We break the trance by exposing ourselves and taking risks, speaking and seeing that we may be awkward and we may not be awkward. We face the anxiety, over and over, until it does not have the same trance-effect. Then, we realize we are not ruined, we are free from lots of shame. We find out people are all a little awkward at times and that there is tremendous intimacy in our awkwardness.
After years of practicing mindfulness, the anxiety is not finished. Changing our minds is a long work in progress…